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Free-Net project back to drawing board

A completely anonymous peer-to-peer network being created by a coalition of hackers is not going to be ready by Def Con in July.

An ambitious attempt by an international coalition of hackers to create a file-sharing program that can defeat censorship has gone back to the drawing board, the project's leader said Wednesday.

Known as "Peekabooty"--and previously as Project X--the program could allow dissidents in authoritarian countries to speak out online by hiding the identity of its users.

Although the program was expected to be released at Def Con, the well-known hacker to-do, the group has decided to solve some sticky technical problems first.

"I have decided to delay the release in the interests of end-user safety," the project's leader, a hacker known as "Oxblood Ruffian," said in an e-mail Wednesday. "Although I am very pleased with what we've accomplished to date, it would be irresponsible to release the software in its current state."

Part of a group of hackers and performance artists known as the Cult of the Dead Cow, or cDc, Ruffian announced the project last July at another pro-hacker convention, Hacking on Planet Earth 2000, in New York. The group is best known for releasing a program to remotely control PCs--called, in their up-front style, Back Orifice--to thousands of hackers worldwide.

Peekabooty combines the Internet's distributed file-sharing abilities--similar to those made famous by Napster--with technology to hide the source of data traveling around the network.

The problem with the software, Oxblood said, is that it doesn't operate as stealthily as the nearly two dozen programmers working on the project would like.

"This is not an insurmountable problem," he said in the e-mail. "We've rejigged our design, and I've recruited a team of network programmers to deal with this issue. We shall continue development and testing until I'm satisfied the software is sufficiently discreet."